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What Matters

Friday, July 30, 2010
If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know that we had a scare with our daughter Larkyn this week. Long story short, she fell off a play structure at day camp (about 6 ft) and fractured her radius quite badly as well as her elbow. After about 7 hours at CHEO we were home trying to figure out how to adjust to the new reality. We will know in one week's time whether or not she will require surgery to correct the elbow or not.

I just wanted to thank everyone at CHEO for their work and everyone who responded to my panic stricken tweets throughout the process, it is great to see the outpour of support from people all over the globe (Larkyn had a book dropped off by a local author, has a stuffed animal in the mail from a friend in Edmonton, and is expecting postcards from overseas from another).

Clearly I didn't have time to write anything this week, I was taking care of what matters most. The whole experience left me drained, and truthfully frustrated when I popped into work to take care of some things before being off for week that was originally reserved for some quiet time for my wife and I. Quiet time, which will now dedicated to the joint care of our daughter.

This was the first real emergency we have ever had with our children and the immediacy of the situation made me question what really matters in life.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your continued support, we appreciate it.

Comic: Productivity

Monday, July 26, 2010
I hope you enjoy my latest web comic. I'm not sure yet if this will become a fixture or not, but I do enjoy doing them. Ideally I want to use them to challenge some of our core assumptions about working in the public sector. This one pretty much sums up today (click image to enlarge):



Ps - I'm also experimenting w/CafePress. If you want you can grab the productivity mug here; proceeds will be donated to the United Way Ottawa.

Column: On Public Sector Ninjas and Rockstars

Friday, July 23, 2010
We have long glorified them. We love stories about them. Against all odds a former unknown, faced with tough decisions, backed by key enablers, and thrust into the right circumstances emerges on the other side a hero.

Through hard work and perseverance she overcomes her enemies and is redeemed.

After slugging it out for years in his garage, he finally makes the big time.

She the ninja and he the rockstar.

If you spend any time in or around the government 2.0 meme these images will be familiar. For lack of a better explanation, they seem to be en vogue right now.

I have said previously that I think one of the core challenges of the public sector is story telling. Generally we do a terrible job of telling the stories that matter most, the ones that could completely transform public perception. We don't have to be paper pushing fat cats, but the truth of the matter is that if the dominant stories being told are those of waste and indifference then the far more important stories simply get lost in a tidal wave of apathy.

Invoking images of ninja and rockstars is useful in so far as it helps mitigate the fact that there is little discussion about how it is okay for public servants to love their job and chase their passions even if the odds of achieving them look slim.

Rockstars are iconic, they're sexy, they sell, and quite honestly their typically rebellious nature is the closest that government workers can get to raging against the machine.

Ninjas are stealthy, skillful, and their clandestine nature offers public servants a means of bringing down the system from within.

You know what else these images share? An undercurrent of insurgency.

We meet in cafés, trade information, and disrupt traditional business models and hierarchies. We embrace asymmetry if it suits our needs, and at times our outputs cannot be easily be reintegrated into the collective. We vilify the old guard and celebrate our successes.

I can't help but think this is somehow connected to the idea of edge versus fringe whereby:

Fringes are marginal, by definition. A political group with extreme views. An artistic movement without commercial ambition or potential. Most of us try to avoid the fringes, unless we're trying to make a point of some kind, because fringes rarely lead anywhere useful. They're dead ends, to mix metaphors. They neither grow big nor powerful enough to influence the center — which we call the core — of society and commerce.

Edges, like fringes, also exist on the periphery of a given domain or place. But that's where the similarities end. In business, edges are the places where the potential for innovation and growth is the highest. They are where unmet needs intersect with unexploited capabilities.

So the real question is whether or not invoking the ninja and rockstar memes puts us on the edge or the fringe. I honestly don't have an answer on this one. Personally I enjoy them, they get people excited. They help public servants rediscover the art of the possible. Yet my fear is that ninja often leave a trail of carnage behind them and rockstars choose to burnout rather than fade away.

I think the thing we often forget is that becoming a ninja or a rockstar takes dedication, hard work, patience, and mastery of difficult arts. As much fun as the vernacular can be I feel as though that everything that comes before the image is often lost or at least undervalued.

This is one of the primary reasons why I like telling my own personal story of renewal. I feel it does a good job in highlighting the trials and tribulations that associated with public sector stardom.

It's been a great journey this far, but I've had my share of bumps and bruises. I've taken risks. I've had things not pan out.

Fittingly, like ninjas and rockstars, the most important thing in my career has always been perseverance.

[Note: If you are in the DC area on August 10th, you may be interested in coming to a presentation I am giving on this very topic. You can find more information here.]

[Image credit: Don Solo]

Update: Nick Goes to Washington?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
After a successful keynote at the Next Generation of Government Summit in Washington earlier this month I've been invited back to deliver another by the (US) Federal Communicators Network (FCN) and Govloop.

FCN is providing a venue, Govloop is dishing out breakfast, and I am left to raise the capital for the travel myself. Originally we were discussing funding options but like many good (and inexpensive) ideas were stifled by the bureaucracy.

What we decided to do was create an event using Eventbrite. The tickets for the event are only $12.50 (including the Eventbrite fees). Trust me when I say I'm not making money on this venture. In fact, I need to move at least 75 tickets in order to cover the cost of airfare (but that increases the longer I wait to buy my ticket). If we can't quickly move the tickets we will be forced to cancel the event and (clearly) refund all the tickets purchased. If we raise more money than required to cover my travel expenses I will donate the remaining monies to the United Way Ottawa, a charitable organization with whom I volunteer my time. Speaking of volunteering my time, you should also know that I took vacation for the day of the event (August 10th, 9:30-11:30am).

From where I sit, I see two core challenges with this experiment:

1 - Cost to participants: FCN events are typically no charge.
2 - Brand: With the exception of a handful of those in the Government 2.0 space I have very little brand recognition outside Canada.

How do you convince people to pay to hear someone speak when they have never even heard of who he is?

Maybe you show them this little clip about his transition from private sector to public sector:



Or maybe you show them a video of him spoofing the Old Spice guy (sorry the volume is low):


If you are interested in attending the event in Washington I urge you to register ASAP; and if none of that worked, well I don't know what will.

Here is the link to the event: http://cpsr.eventbrite.com

Thanks for taking the time.

Now What?

Friday, July 16, 2010
Full disclosure: I was recently sent advance copies of two reports (canada@150 c/o the PRI and Road to Retention c/o the Public Policy Forum) and asked to blog about them. This is that post, sort of. Rather than waxing poetic about the reports themselves, I will simply offer up a quick observation on each, and then explore what I think is a far more important question: now what?


canada@150

Admittedly, I didn't read the entire canada@150 report. It’s a behemoth size-wise (I recommend the coles notes version). Rather than skim the entire document haphazardly I zeroed in on the vision of the public service in 2017, which was well-articulated and worth the read. I went so far as creating a data visualization of it:



The nice thing about the visualization is that it helps you get the sense of what the essence of the vision was, is interactive, and offers a lower barrier to entry to prospective readers.


Road to Retention

Despite not actually being listed as a participant in the final report, I was in fact in attendance at the Ottawa session. I quickly skipped over the contextualization in the document as I am familiar with the changing demographics in this country. I was however quite interested in the recommendations put forth. The recommendation that hit closest to home for me was the need for employers to understand that the boundaries of the workplace have shifted. I for one regularly empty my inbox, prioritize my task list and read relevant documentation on the hour commute in to work. Old school management philosophies wouldn't put any value on that work. I gathered all the text from the recommendation section of the report and put together this word cloud of the recommendations in the report.



Truthfully, I was a little disappointed in how the word cloud turned out. I don't think it necessarily conveys the essence of the recommendations (feel free to disagree). Looking back I feel as though being a part of the conversation itself was far more valuable to me than reading the report a year later. Similarly, I assume, to those who participated in the canada@150 process.


Yeah, so reports are all nifty and cool but like now what?

Great question, right? What should we do with the contents of these two reports? There are some bang-up recommendations in both. Surely they deserve a better fate than early retirement to a lonely corner of the internet somewhere?

Please forgive me, and I don't mean to sound insulting, the reports are great, but my feeling is that if we didn't have a plan to use the ideas put forth in these reports why did we invest in the process of creating them?

The problem is by no means unique to either of these reports. In my three years in government I have seen it happen over and over again. Good ideas published in reports only to gather dust.

I think the reason it happens is actually rather simple: we often set the publication of the report as the final stage of the project, sometimes we take it one step further and have a communications plan that exceeds “put it on the website”.

What I never see these reports include is a re-integration plan: how do we take these recommendations and bring them into our organizations. Don't just throw the recommendations out there, point people in the right direction, arm them with communication materials - things they can use within their own social circles, give them an opportunity to connect with other people interested in the ideas. Whatever you do, don't just set up a generic email address to field queries.

I'm not saying rush out there and set up a Facebook fan page, but perhaps you could find a little corner on the web that pulls together all the pieces of the conversations and enables broader community engagement with the ideas.

Workflows that produce reports with recommendations should include the reintegration of those recommendations born out of the ideation process. Failing to do this costs organizations in more ways than I think we understand. There are many ways to do this through outreach, tagging, and aggregation tools using currently available (and often free!) tools.

I don't want to focus too much on the communications aspect, but I am a firm believer that reintegration of recommendations and community engagement needs to be part and parcel of the process that create these types of reports. What we need is akin to a cradle-to-cradle strategy for these types of initiatives. In both of these particular cases these reports were produced from an inclusive and participatory process. My feeling here is that there is a kind of natural opportunity here. The community (even if only temporary as in the cases above) should be the primary means through which the essence of these reports are communicated, championed and reintegrated back into organizations.

There is no better way to reintegrate the findings of a report back into the business fabric than by involving those initial producers back into the fold. Surely their voices lend more credence to the contents. They speak with a conviction deeper than any blogger who was at best tangentially involved in the process. We must shift our thinking and equip participants to move forward in a meaningful way. If we don't, I feel as though we have done them a disservice: their opinions mattered enough for us to solicit them, but not enough to act on them.

Podcast: Creating a Culture of Innovation

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
After my presentation at the Next Generation of Government Summit last week, I had the chance to sit down with Katherine Mehr for a quick interview. During the interview I share my thoughts on how we can create a more innovative culture by sharing stories, celebrating our successes and surrounding ourselves by the right people. Katherine was nice enough to share the source file, I have embedded it below. Cheers.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

The Kübler-Ross Model of Internet Access Blocking

Friday, July 9, 2010
As a knowledge worker in the public service there is nothing more frustrating than being denied access to the knowledge you need to do your job. When it happens repeatedly over the course of a few hours it moves from slightly aggravating to completely demotivating.

Here is a quick comic I threw together using bitstrips about the 5 stages of internet access blocking at the workplace.

In a somewhat serendipitous manner, my friend Mark just created an awesome site called IsItSafe.ca.

The site itself specializes in URL/domain mini-Risk Assessments; read more about Mark's awesome efforts right here.